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     On Listening to the Mapleson Cylinders    Table of Contents      Artists

The Mapleson Cylinders - Program Notes

- History
- Producers' Note

Producers' Note

This comprehensive disc edition includes every salvageable item from the known corpus of the Mapleson cylinders, even including a few essentially unrelated to the Metropolitan Opera. In the main listening sequence, on eleven sides, the recordings have been grouped more or less by repertory--roughly, French, Italian, and German--and within each repertory area, by opera. The sequence of selections within an opera has been determined in each case on an ad hoc basis: generally by sequence within the score, but with occasional exceptions where it seemed to make sense to keep together material from the same performance (thus, the excerpts from the later, longer, and better-sounding Nordica "Immolation Scene" are given in sequence, rather than interspersed with the passages from the earlier performance). In some cases of duplicate repertory ( Le Cid and the end of Tosca ), later recordings have been placed first, where they help prepare the listener to decipher earlier and dimmer ones. A few groups of non-operatic material have been used to fill out sides, so that Mapleson's extensive recordings from Faust, Les Huguenots, and the 1903 Lohengrin performance can each be kept intact on a side.

Given the significance of these unique recordings, we felt that this first complete publication should indeed be as complete as possible. However, in order not to burden the main listening sequence with items of marginal interest or audibility, these have been sequestered in a Supplement on the final side--we are tempted to describe its contents as "the unidentifiable, the inaudible, the unmusical, and the unlistenable." But because even the faintest trace of, say, Jean De Reszke and Terina in Tristan may give some scholar or listener somewhere a clue to the work's performance history or to the singers' vocal qualities, because even the chatter of the Mapleson children might prove useful to a student of vernacular Anglo-American speech at the turn of the century, because some future listener may be able to supply an identification that has eluded us, we have included everything that was physically playable.

In the original taping sessions of 1981, virtually all the cylinders were recorded at least twice--once flat, once with equalization; sometimes additional takes were made with alternate styli. For the disc edition, we generally preferred the flat takes, for their greater timbral fidelity and spatial ambience; however, in the case of very worn recordings where equalization tangibly improved audibility of the musical signal, we chose the equalized takes. All detectible signal on each cylinder was retained (including Mapleson's occasional running starts and stops, as well as applause and stage waits); noisy beginnings and ends were trimmed as cleanly as possible, and repeating grooves edited out. Declicking was conservative: where a few "clean" noises intruded upon a relatively quiet cylinder and could be edited out without a trace, this has been done, but badly cracked cylinders--the cracks often double-or triple-barreled--could not be declicked without deleterious effect on the musical information, the intact preservation of which seemed a more important consideration than production of a smooth sonic picture. (Those to whom silent surfaces are a paramount consideration probably shouldn't be listening to these recordings at all!)

In cases where Mapleson stopped his machine and restarted it later, we have inserted brief pauses, giving the listener time to reorient himself (if the subsequent selection is from a later scene or another work, of course it has been placed in the appropriate position). Separate cylinders that follow very closely upon one another within the same scene (e.g., the four from the Valentine-Marcel duet in Les Huguenots ) have been grouped together in the same band, but in general we have not spared on spirals, reasoning that, after initial hearings, most use of these records will be for short and selective listening.

Although agreeing with David Hall that the faintest cylinders fare best with headphone listening, we feel that adequate preparation is the most important resource for getting the most out of these recordings. Listeners who have access to printed scores of the operas and can read musical notation are strongly encouraged to follow the notes when listening, especially with the earlier, dimmer recordings and with the less familiar works. Alternatively, preliminary listening to a modern recording of the passage in question will often help in deciphering the fainter sounds on the cylinders (in line with this principle, in laying out these sides we have, as mentioned, placed clearer recordings before dimmer ones of the same music). In lieu of the printed music, the librettos and program notes below are designed to assist listeners in following the progress of the recordings as closely as possible. If you know what you are listening for, it becomes easier to detect.

David Hamilton

Tom Owen

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     On Listening to the Mapleson Cylinders    Table of Contents      Artists